I Cut the Cord: How I Survived the Withdrawal Pains

I finally did it; I cut the cord! I have been threatening to do it for years, but each time I summoned the courage to do so, I chickened out at the last minute. I experienced pre-withdrawal to the maximum degree. How could I possibly live without cable/satellite television? What would cutting the cord do to my quality of life? Would I be ostracized by neighbors and friends and branded a rebel? How would I be able to converse intelligently with people if I did not have cable or satellite to stimulate my conversations? How would I be able to stay up to date on the latest products and gadgets such as the telescoping Comfort Wipe for the big guy or girl in the family; miracle vitamins that cause age spots and wrinkles to peel off in layers; exercise rages such as the Shake Weight and the amazing 30 second monthly workout; kitchen gadgets that can be used to slice and dice as well as clean dentures; real estate opportunities around the world where you can buy for pennies and sell for millions; all in one household tools that vacuum the floor, massage your feet, and breast feed the baby; music sets from the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and beyond; or the latest home grooming miracles such as the Flowbee that handles all your hair cut needs? I could not fathom life without cable or even if there would be life after cable.

It is amazing how dependent our society has become on cable and satellite television. The grandchildren, the dog, my wife and I along with the millions of cable subscribers across this nation are cable junkies. Television is an addiction, so did I dare cut the cord and expose my family to the reality of a real world without commercials, mindless sitcoms, and fabricated reality shows? Did I dare cut the cord and refuse to contribute further to bringing obscure, ridiculous, and quite often morally flawed programming into our home? Would exposure to life away from television cause my family to crash and burn? What would happen if I took Cup Cake Moms, 19 and Counting, Dog Whisperer, Duck Dynasty, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, Pawn Stars, and Half Pint Brawlers away from my family? Could we survive? If I took away the source of our mindless addiction to the flawed extremes of TV, would I risk alienating my family? What would my dog do without the comfort of Dog TV to comfort her while I was gone during the day? What would my wife do without channels such as Lifetime, QVC and HSN? What would my grandchildren do without Nickelodeon, Disney, and the Cartoon Network? But, most important, what would I do without ESPN?

Believe me; I did my best to bargain with my satellite company before I cut the cord. I begged them to let me choose à la carte the programming I wanted, but I was told that if customers were allowed to choose only the programming they were interested in viewing, purchasing programs separately would be far more expensive, and some of the smaller channels would be forced out of business since their very existence depended to a large degree on sharing in customer subscriptions. I also begged for lower more affordable rates, but I found lower rates are only available to new customers or sometimes fed up customers who were about to jerk the cord. I found there was not a lot of concern for the latter; the cable and satellite companies cater to new customers with promises of lower rates and bigger DVR toys if they sign a two year contract. The companies know that eighty percent of television decisions are made by the man in the house, and if they can entice him with a sweet enough deal such as including the full Sunday NFL package for “free,” they stand a solid chance of keeping him as a paying customer regardless of how much they raise their prices in future years. Why? ESPN! With the joint efforts of cable/satellite and ESPN to buy the rights to all sports programming especially the NFL and NCAA football, cable and satellite companies are effectively creating a sports monopoly for themselves. They know that men (and some women) will stick with them regardless of the price as long as cable/satellite provides almost exclusive NFL and NCAA coverage. Yes, there is still some NFL and NCAA football available on network television, but when it comes to sports, ESPN is slowly but surely cutting into that market as well (example, ABC Sports is now owned by ESPN and its mother company, Disney). A major part of the business model used by cable and satellite companies to maintain their strangle hold on the TV watching public is to monopolize sports.

As a result of my fears, questions and failure to find adequate sports availability elsewhere, I was reluctant to cut the cord. What finally convinced me was simple economics? My wife and I watch only a handful of channels offered through cable and satellite (over the years we have subscribed to both at various times). Our television time is primarily shared between ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, ESPN, Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. We occasionally watch the History Channel, ETV, Home and Garden Network, and the Smithsonian Channel. Although there are a handful of network shows we enjoy, we primarily watch movies, which accounts for our subscriptions to Amazon Prime and Netflix. Out of our 200+ channel subscription to DirecTV, we watched maybe nine or ten channels, but to get those channels, we had to subscribe to a larger and more expensive package since the smaller packages did not carry the channels we liked to watch; therefore, we paid for it all to get what we wanted to watch.

Other than high cost and lack of programming/channel choice, I have little against cable or satellite. The last television subscription we had was with DirecTV who provided us with good service and quality overall, but at a hefty price. Like most people we started with a very reasonably priced two year subscription, but within a year, the price began creeping ever higher. The day finally came when I realized we were spending $1,656 per year for satellite television plus an additional $400 per year on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus. Over $2,000 a year of our household income was being eaten by television! When my wife and I began thinking about what we watched, it became obvious we were spending a lot of money on programming that held little appeal or interest to us. As a result, I started doing some research. What I discovered was amazing.

I learned that all the network programs we watched were available for free with an OTA (over the air antenna), and the most amazing part according to my research was that the picture quality was superior to cable or satellite. I admit I was skeptical at first, but after using an OTA (purchased from Walmart for $40.00) for nearly three months, I can attest that picture quality is improved over what I received with satellite. With the OTA, I receive all the network stations free and with superior picture quality. We had also become somewhat addicted to the convenience of the satellite DVR, which allowed us to record our favorite shows as well as stop any program we were watching for a bathroom or snack break and then resume the program where we had left off. After some additional research, I purchased an OTA DVR that provided the same functions as our satellite DVR. The great thing was that there was no monthly subscription for the OTA DVR service (unlike satellite, cable, or TIVO). To satisfy our movie appetite, we kept our subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu Plus. These three subscriptions also allow access to several television series and special programming. In addition, we purchased a Roku box and connected it to our television. The Roku box works off the wireless internet in our home and provides access to an unbelievable catalog of mostly free internet channels that offer new and old movies, old television classics, The History Channel, Smithsonian Channel, as well as ESPN replays. As a result, we now have access to our TV favorites as well as more content than we will ever be able to watch, and the great thing is that we are saving over 80% off what we were paying for television three months ago. To get a better picture of our savings, look at the BEFORE OTA and WITH OTA expense chart below:

BEFORE OTA and AFTER OTA Expense Chart

Monthly Cost BEFORE OTA           Replaced with/Cost              Monthly cost WITH OTA              

Satellite TV           $138.00                 OTA                       $40.00                                   0

Satellite DVR        —————–          OTA DVR *            $270.00                                 0

—————–          —————–         Roku *                    $69.00                                   0

Netflix                   $17.00                   —————            ————                                $17.00

Amazon Prime     $8.25                      —————           ————                                $8.25

Hulu Plus              $7.99                      —————           ————                                $7.99

TOTAL MONTHLY  $171.24                One Time Cost     $370.00                              $33.24

(* = Optional)

As can be seen in the chart, the savings experienced with the OTA setup was significant. The OTA DVR and Roku are listed as optional equipment since all you need to cut the cord to cable or satellite is an over the air antenna (OTA). There are two choices for an OTA – a directional or unidirectional antenna. The choice is up to the cord cutter, but websites such as http://www.antennaweb.org/ and http://tvfool.com/ offer advice as to which antenna may be best based on the address/location.

As customers, people should have the right to pick the channels they pay for without content being dictated to them. Unfortunately, for now the only choices available to consumers is to break away from the cable and satellite companies, or continue paying ever rising monthly rates for content they don’t need or want. Everyday more people are taking control and saying no to overpriced cable and satellite, but there are still many more not willing or ready to make that jump, but that is okay if they are happy with the arrangement they have with their cable or satellite provider.

I have been pleased with the decision to cut ties with cable and satellite, and for me the pros far outweigh the cons unless you are a sports junkie and then cutting the cord does significantly impact what you will be able to watch in sports. Yet, that too may change in the near future as more programming companies such as HBO begin to make their content available for streaming directly to customers with services such as HBO GO. Overall, I have been amazed at the improved picture quality as well as the control I now have over what I watch on television, but what is most amazing is the absence of the withdrawal pains I had anticipated and feared. Of course, I still get a little withdrawal tinge when there is a football game on television that I cannot watch, but I have found that there are still enough games available on the networks to feed my appetite for football. The bottom line is that after years and years of feeding the monster, I have discovered the monster can be tamed, and if you are committed enough you can not only improve the quality of your television picture and content by cutting the cord, you can improve the quality of your life as well by simply turning off the television and spending more time with family or a good book.

JL

©Jack Linton, November 16, 2014

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